Social Media Portal (SMP) interview with SACO Apartments Hollie Swain

Hollie Swain (HS): My name is Hollie Swain and I’m the  online digital marketing executive for SACO The Serviced Apartment Company. I’m responsible for looking after all online and digital activities and making sure everyone has the online support they need to engage with their customers. I am also responsible for growing audiences across all social media platforms, creating email marketing campaigns and writing engaging content as well as managing the website on a day-to-day basis.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about SACO Apartments

HS: SACO is The Serviced Apartment Company, we’re a UK provider of serviced apartments, with an extensive network of SACO-operated apartments and partner properties in cities around the world.

Our business was born because our founder loved the benefits of apartment living for business and leisure travel, as well as the value, choice and flexibility that simply isn’t available in traditional hotels.

We’ve been championing serviced apartments as a better way to stay away for 17 years, and now businesses of all sizes come to SACO for our consistency, knowledge, experience and outstanding customer service.

SACO The Serviced Apartment Company homepage image

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

HS: Anybody who stays away from home!  Business travellers, leisure travellers, people relocating – anybody who loves the idea of having a whole apartment to stay in rather than a typical hotel room.

SMP: What were you doing before you joined SACO Apartments and how did you snag your current job?

HS: Before I joined SACO, I was working for a technology company based in Cambridge. The role embraced the full marketing mix so I was able to build my overall skills as a marketer, learn where my specialisms lie and understand what I love getting my teeth into. I believe that my experience in a mixture of both B2B and B2C environments along with an excellent grounding in online marketing and social media, plus enthusiasm and the ability to write a good story helped me to snag my current role.

SMP: Briefly, what does your job entail and what does a typical day look like?

HS: I start the day by scheduling and reviewing content for social media and making sure we’re involved in the right conversations on the right platforms where our target audiences are congregating. Then it’s onto the website, assessing online booking performance as a whole and against other channels as well as reviewing SEO performance and making sure all online channels are supporting the sales functions. Beyond that I tackle email campaigns, content writing and other projects that we have in the pipeline.

Photograph of Hollie Swain from SACOSMP: What makes it a great job?

HS: I love the variety of my role as well as the ability to really drive change in our digital sphere. It also helps that we have a great team ethos and culture that is really tangible at SACO.  We are like one big happy family.

SMP: How did SACO initially attract users to site, social channels et al and how does it do it now?

HS: For the website we use a combination of techniques including good SEO practices, PPC, email and social. With so many Google updates (Penguins, Pandas and any other animals they can throw into the mix!) it’s important that good practise is being adhered to, otherwise all your good efforts can be very quickly lost. We firmly believe that “content is king” – but of course recognise the importance of relevance which in turn leads to great linking opportunities.

Social media is noisy, busy and fun. We are increasingly using it to communicate with existing and prospective customers – sharing content, visuals, customer feedback, offers, updates and the ability to book.  We also engage our customers in real time peer to peer feedback which of course is hugely popular.

More recently we have stretched our social media reach to engage with new blogger communities to take the SACO brand and the concept of serviced apartments even further, it’s been a very successful strategy.

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at SACO Apartments?

Our key challenge is how to market the serviced apartment concept; so many people have still never heard of them or even thought about booking one instead of a hotel. Good job we love rising to the challenge and finding ways to do this!  Introducing peer to peer reviews was an example of how we have helped to overcome this and very publically share the benefits of serviced apartments to a much wider audience.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

HS: By implementing a robust social media strategy I have increased our social authority score by 11 points in 12 months, not only this, but I have encouraged a more positive culture towards social media across by opening it up to SACO teams and including stories from people across the business. Another highlight has been starting to evolve our digital platforms, scoping for a new website and looking into digital tools. Learning more about effective solutions for our customers in the digital field is vital in order for us to take the next big step in our technological revolution.

SMP: What are the main social channels are you using, why and which are the most effective for SACO Apartments?

HS: Having apartments all over the UK means that we have to be local experts in all the cities we’re in and social platforms also need to support this ethos. Twitter, Facebook andGoogle+ are great platforms as they really help to drive local content to people when they need it most.

Giving them the ability to check-in to our locations, leave reviews and easily access useful, relevant and fresh information that adds to their overall experience with SACO. This blend of content has proven exceptionally popular as nowadays, the typical social consumer will often search the web, forums and social media looking for information other than that which is found on the company website before going to purchase stage. Therefore, it’s key to leverage social platforms like Twitter to feed them this information.LinkedIn is great, but works differently in that it showcases the brand and highlights news and updates. It’s a great tool for networking, keeping up with industry news and recruitment.

SMP: What sort of activity / engagement are you receiving across the social channels that you use and how do you create / sustain this?

HS: Our tweets average 15K impressions per month. This is maintained and built upon by posting regular useful content about the cities we are located in as well as reviews and industry news. Through strict regular posting of content, Facebook activity has increased by 60% and Google+ 130% in the past year. For LinkedIn we average around 5% increase in followers per month.

SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities for your sector and the competition that you have?

HS: The serviced apartment industry is still very much in its infancy, therefore I see that as both our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity. As I have already mentioned one of our biggest challenges is getting the message out there – “what is a serviced apartment” and “what are the benefits of staying in one”.  There is a lot of traction now, but here at SACO we want to be on the crest of the wave and leading the way. One of our core values is “Be Ambitious”, so we have ambitious plans in every aspect of our business and that definitely includes the full marketing and brand mix.

We believe our ambitious approach will keep us ahead of our competitors, who are growing at a huge rate and that includes traditional hotel brands jumping on the bandwagon.

SMP: What is the most challenging part of building upon your brand presence in digital environments?

HS: SACO has a strong brand that is becoming increasingly well known in core markets.  It’s a brand that is built on being all about hospitality, welcoming people – willing, dedicated, friendly yet with a quiet confidence that comes from 17 years of experience and expertise in the world of serviced apartments.

Our challenge is to translate that warm, welcoming feeling digitally.

SMP: What do you think is going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media, social networks and/or technology for the next 12 to 18-months and why?

HS: For me, the most interesting aspect of social media and technology over the next 12 or so months will be the growth of ‘local’ as an idea and concept. Technology is making the world a much smaller place, what used to be deemed as ‘local’ has grown exponentially. I’m excited to see where this concept will go and won’t be surprised to see more platforms and technology that enables local content to be even more accessible.

SMP: What are your top five predictions for social media for the next 12 to 18-months?

  1. Social empowerment – I love the fact that the consumer has such a powerful voice and the ability to choose. With the advent of platforms such as Uber and Airbnb I can only predict that this will grow and evolve into something much bigger than it already is.
  2. I know I’ve already gone on about it, but for me ‘local’ is really going to come into its own. From being able to walk past a shop and receive an offer for it on your phone to accessing ‘insider’ knowledge. It’s all about being the first to know what’s going on around you wherever you are, which is really powerful and will never die out.
  3. More visual content – technology gives us more access to ways to create visual content. From infographics to videos, it would be mad to think that this has plateaued; I think the potential is only just getting started.
  4. Blogging – again, a bit like social empowerment, bloggers and vloggers are only gaining in popularity and are great because they truly are knowledgeable and experts in their areas. I expect to see more platforms crop up for specific blogging areas.
  5. Social listening – social media can be a bit of a one way street with companies posting endless content and expecting to engage with their audiences. But that’s exactly what it shouldn’t be. I expect to see more tools cropping up that help marketers listen to the noise and really start to understand the still slightly foggy world of social ROI.

SMP: What are your top overall five social media tips?

  1. Update frequently, I know it sounds so obvious but it really is about leveraging those opportunities to get in front of people when they log in.
  2. User generated content is gold! Use it as much as possible and thank people for taking the time to share. Turn not so positive reviews into a platform to shine and restore faith in the brand. It’s social for a reason!
  3. Understand your audience, this can take time but in the end will save you time as you start to see a vast improvement in engagement.
  4. Try different posting tools and choose the one that suits you and your company needs. There are loads out there now; they all claim to do what you need them to so the key is to work out what you need and get testing.
  5. Sign up to RSS feeds and digital blogs to keep up with the latest trends. There are new platforms cropping up all the time, and whilst they might not all be right for your mix it’s still vital to stay in touch with what’s happening in the digital world around you.

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?

HS: I have been trialling Hootlet alongside Hootsuite and have seen a 232% increase in impressions on LinkedIn content compared to the previous month. It just shows that you should never stop trying new things!


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